One of the favorite tactics of sneaky, stealth bullies is to set traps for you.Â When you fall into their snare, theyâ€™re gleefully smug, â€œGotcha!Â See, I told you!â€Â Their hidden agenda is to prove youâ€™re wrong, dumb and bad and theyâ€™re right, smart and good.Â Theyâ€™re not interested in truth or equal relationships; theyâ€™re interested in putting you down and dragging themselves up.
A general example would be; suppose youâ€™ve said that a particular example of harassment and bullying was hurtful, dangerous and wrong, and they think youâ€™re over-reacting and wrong.Â They think the bullying behavior was mild or negligible or normal and that we should ignore it.
They wonâ€™t be straightforward and declare their opinion.Â They wonâ€™t get into a discussion in which they might be proven wrong and have to change their ideas.Â For example, they wonâ€™t say that they believe youâ€™re over-reacting because youâ€™re a too-sensitive, single parent or because your mommy and daddy were bad to you or because youâ€™re afraid of the dark.Â Thatâ€™s too open for them and doesnâ€™t have the payoff they want.
Instead, because theyâ€™re sneaky, manipulative bullies, theyâ€™ll simply, almost innocently ask a leading question, â€œAre you a single parent?â€ or â€œWere your mommy and daddy were bad to you?â€ or â€œAre you afraid of the dark?â€
Theyâ€™re hoping youâ€™ll say â€œYes.â€Â Then they can sneer and pounce â€“ â€œSee.Â Iâ€™m right.Â Youâ€™re merely over-reacting because mommy and daddy were bad to youâ€ or â€œYouâ€™re only over reacting because youâ€™re a foolish single parent.â€
They feel safe and smug.Â Since they didnâ€™t declare their opinions openly, if you say Noâ€ to those questions, they wonâ€™t have to admit that their theories or opinions were wrong.Â They wonâ€™t have to change their beliefs.Â Their harassment, bullying and abuse wonâ€™t stop.Â Theyâ€™ll simply move on and try to lead you into another trap.
If you want or have to keep dealing with these covert manipulators, maybe because one is your boss or spouse and youâ€™re not ready to leave yet, some tactics to try are:
- Pin them down to expressing an opinion before you answer the question.Â You might ask directly, â€œWhatâ€™s your point about whether Iâ€™m a single parent?Â Tell me directly what you think.â€Â Or, â€œWhatâ€™s your point about whether or not mommy and daddy were bad to me years ago?Â Tell me directly what you think.â€
Be persevering.Â Wait for an answer.Â Then follow-up with a statement about their belief and whether your evidence will change their opinions.Â â€œSo you think Iâ€™m overreacting because Iâ€™m a single parent?Â So if Iâ€™m married, will you change your opinion and will you accept that Iâ€™m not overreacting?â€Â Or, â€œSo you think that people get upset about bullying because their mommies and daddies were bad to them?Â So if my mommy and daddy were good to me, will you change your opinion and will you accept that Iâ€™m not overreacting?â€
- Laugh at the hidden connection.Â â€œThatâ€™s really silly to think that only single-parents get upset when heir children are bullied.Â You sound like a person who thinks bullying is fine.â€
- Simply ignore the question.Â You donâ€™t have to answer every question that someone asks you.
- Reverse the question onto them.Â â€œOh, so you think we should ignore the pain inflicted on that defenseless target.Â Were you a bully when you were younger?Â Were you bullied when you were younger?Â Were you afraid to fight back?â€
- Laugh at the entrapment.Â â€œOh, you really got me with that question.Â You look smug, superior and righteous.Â As if that means youâ€™re smart and right.Â How childish and silly to play that game at your age.â€
Challenge your date, partner or spouse to stop tripping you up or putting you down, or vote them off your life if they keep trying to:
- Trap you to prove youâ€™re dumb, silly, wrong or bad.
- Further hidden agendas to put them in charge of all decisions.
- Convince you that youâ€™re too sensitive and that their sense of humor is fine.
- Convince you that they donâ€™t have to stop being nasty because once you were nasty to them.
Better than cluttering your space with stealth bullies is to clear your life space so someone good can come into it.Â If you donâ€™t, the constant putdowns and â€œGotchasâ€ will undermine your confidence and self-esteem, and lead to negative self-talk, self-doubt, anxiety and depression.Â Itâ€™ll stimulate your own self-bullying patterns and make you weak, immobile and easy prey.
Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs â€œHow to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,â€ â€œParenting Bully-Proof Kidsâ€ and â€œEliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.â€ He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.Â To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).